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Summary:

Sprint’s newest Android is a 3G phone that can be a mobile hotspot and uses a powerful processor. But the best spec is the price: $20 with contract. Slice is a must-have new Android app for digital shoppers, while one app maker is abandoning Android.

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The period after Mobile World Congress is usually a quiet time for new phone announcements, but this week proved differently. Sprint announced the ZTE Fury, which will cost a mere $20 after a 2-year contract and $50 rebate. This Android 2.3 smartphone won’t impress folks wowed by the cutting-edge phones introduced at MWC, but the Fury is a great value.

When looking at the specifications, the Fury is an impressive-sounding smartphone for the price, and it foreshadows the future of Android handsets for the first-time handset buyer. The 1 GHz CPU is the same Qualcomm chip that powered Verizon’s first LTE handset last year, the HTC Thunderbolt, for example. The camera sensor is 5 megapixels, and although the touchscreen display is only 320 x 480 pixels, the screen uses IPS technology, making for wide viewing angles.

At this price, ZTE had to cut a few corners, but even those aren’t too bad. The Fury comes with a meager 4 GB of internal storage; however, capacity can be expanded by up to another 32 GB with a microSD card; a 2 GB card is included. And the 512 MB of RAM is about the minimum I’d expect to see in an Android phone at any price these days. Still, it’s $20 for a 3G-capable Android handset that can be a mobile hotspot, too. And it doesn’t surprise me that ZTE is making it. ZTE is a Chinese company that’s making a big push in the U.S. market, along with its peer, Huawei.

One of the first apps I’d install on an Android phone from any carrier is one that’s been on iOS for a while. The free software is called Slice, and it landed in the Google Play app store this week.

Slice is the best tool I’ve seen yet to track online and digital orders — with one caveat: you have to allow the app to access your email. If you’re willing to do that, Slice will analyze your inbox and find every single order receipt you have on file. It then consolidates that data and gives you a full history of your online spending, which is handy to see what you’ve ordered and spent. I’m a big online shopper: my total spending topped $14,000 since 2006, which is the furthest date that Slice could find.

Even better is how Slice will continue to monitor your inbox. Each new order is added automatically to the app, and it will track your purchase delivery and provide useful information, such as customer service numbers for retailers as well as their return policies. If you buy any digital or physical media online, Slice is a must-have app.

As some apps arrive for Android, however, others leave. This week saw app developer Mika Mobile choose to abandon Google’s mobile platform. I understand their resasoning, but it concerns me because others could easily follow. Here’s the issue, in the company’s own words:

We spent about 20% of our total man-hours last year dealing with Android in one way or another – porting, platform specific bug fixes, customer service, etc.  I would have preferred spending that time on more content for you, but instead I was thanklessly modifying shaders and texture formats to work on different GPUs, or pushing out patches to support new devices without crashing, or walking someone through how to fix an installation that wouldn’t go through.  We spent thousands on various test hardware.  These are the unsung necessities of offering our apps on Android.  Meanwhile, Android sales amounted to around 5% of our revenue for the year, and continues to shrink.  Needless to say, this ratio is unsustainable.

Regardless of whether you prefer or use Google Android over another mobile platform, this doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the future of Android apps. One developer doesn’t make a trend, and many larger app shops will simply devote more resources to Android support as needed, but I’d like to see Google tighten the reins of its platform while still keeping the premise of an “open” system that anyone can use. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s possible.

  1. Interesting read, especially about this cheap Droids. They’re actually the reason Andy Rubin get’s to tout so many activations.
    Some thoughts from me about that: http://scottsscripts.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/850k-of-what/

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    1. Actually no….it isn’t. I don’t know how many ways it has to be shown for people to get it. Any Android dev will tell you its almost nothing but high end phones hitting their apps. And Google created a graphic showing which phones were driving sales. These phones don’t come cheap for the most part.

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      1. Really? Are you an Android developer? Can you link to the graphic you’re talking about?
        I’m asking because all I seem to read is how devs have a hard time, and make no profit from developing for so many screens.
        http://scottsscripts.wordpress.com/

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  2. You said Slice is the best tool I’ve seen yet to track online and digital orders; with one caveat: You have to allow the app to access your email. If you’re willing to do so, Slice will analyze your inbox and find every single order receipt you have on file.

    Do we really want an app delving into our personal lives? What happens when the info at Slice is hacked as has happened with credit card companies and data storage facilities?

    I’ll keep my own data using my own spreadsheets.

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  3. I’m sure a lot of developers will opt to focus on ios. That’s okay with me. I’m sure variety and differentiation make things more challenging for them. And I suspect there is some selection bias that benefits them on ios. I suspect ios users want to buy more, perhaps that’s why they got an ios device. All this should make the ios platform a nice medium sized sandbox. Good luck to all who opt for it. I find android perfect for my needs. I think devs that focus on android will do just fine. Everything won’t be just so. It sure looks like it will be a giant market.

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  4. Wow. $20 for an Android phone. You know that spending money on tech means you have to follow the golden rule YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. In my experience a low cost android usually provides poor performance. Don’t expect it to be a good media platform for games or video. But for the first time Android user it’s a steal. Good luck Sprint.

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  5. This is incredibly misleading, Kevin. Your headline suggests the phone actually costs $20, not $20 with a two-year contract. How is this news? The iPhone 3GS is free after contract and is arguably a much better phone even if you just count hardware specs. Even Android phones are regularly discounted to near-free after contract.

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    1. It’s pretty common for smartphone pricing in the U.S. to be “with contract” and I stated that in the article. There’s no intent to mislead.

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      1. Mukesh Aggarwal Sunday, March 11, 2012

        I am from US, I still think $20 is really misleading. With contract pricing have no meaning since you end up paying through your nose for next two years. There are MUCH better phones available for FREE with contract regularly. So this low end phone is actually a BAD deal if you are signing a contract. If you are looking for a deal real deal, here is something – http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=1218403502117&type=product&isLogout=true&DPSLogout=true&_requestid=267129 which is $30 ZTE score with no contract .

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    2. Yeah right. Anything is arguable. I agree that the number we should always use for comparison is the non-contract price, otherwise known as the price. But arguing the 3gs is much better even just on hardware specs? I believe you’re mistaken sir. I think it’s possible that you like it better because it’s an iphone, and you have an iphone. I think it’s kind of sad that people attach so much importance to the decision they made to buy something. Don’t worry. You’re okay. We all like you!

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  6. Panayiotis Papadopoulos Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Regarding the bugs, a solution like Bugsense is always a boost.

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  7. Android developers can at least speak their heart out .. I doubt Apple will allow the app in their store if a developer speaks against iOS development pain points ..most likely they will be booted out …. I am sure there are many iOS pain points as well.

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    1. You have no idea what you are talking about. I have a category in my blog called ‘iOS Pain Points’, where I talk about all of the painful aspects of iOS development – http://code-ninja.org/blog/category/ios-pain-points/, and I haven’t been “booted out” of the app store.

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  8. Forget about those Android phones. The new iPad keeps getting better and better. http://detectapple.com/4g-lte-ipad-components-cost-310/

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  9. At the end of the day this is very true. It’s easier and more profitable for everyone involved with a developer to just make apps for closed ecosystems like windows phones and ios. Solely for the fact that it’s all the same shit to code on. And when you get so many complaints about your app not working right because somebody’s working with things other than your test hardware it gets bothersome having to fix your final product instead of adding on to it. But hey I support android I just think ics needs to get to the bulk of handsets before anything else happens especially if good devs start leaving.

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  10. Memory seems quite good at 4Gb. Remember the Nexus One? That had 512 Mb of internal memory with facility to add a microSD card

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    1. tvnewswatch, the phone has 4GB of internal storage. I think you are confusing memory and storage as being the same thing

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